Thousands of Olympic athletes on boats cruising along the River Seine toward the sun setting like a giant gold medal behind the Eiffel Tower.
The 2024 Paris Games opening ceremony vision was unveiled on Monday as an event that organizers hope will be unique in Olympic history and free for hundreds of thousands to watch on the riverside.
Rethinking the ceremony that announces an Olympics to the world by taking it outside the traditional stadium setting was long hinted at by Paris officials.
Details revealed for the July 26, 2024 show help explain a promise to use the City of Light, its culture and people as essential actors in the Olympics.
“It has to be creative, it has to be different, it has to be spectacular and it has to be popular,” Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris Olympics organizing committee, told the Associated Press.
For starters, the water-borne opening ceremony will innovate by having the parade of athletes from more than 200 teams begin the evening instead of end it.
It will also be free to view for most of the expected 600,000 spectators lining the six-kilometer (four-mile) route.
The creative, security and logistical challenges of such a city-wide show have involved dozens of meetings between sports, city and national authorities in the past year, Estanguet said.
About 160 boats will take athletes on the Seine from Pont d’Austerlitz in the east westward to Pont d’Iena beneath the Eiffel Tower.
“At this hour, of course, the light is just magic, really beautiful,” Estanguet said in an interview.
The athletes will pass landmarks such as Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre and d’Orsay museums and the Grand Palais on a route set to be animated with light shows, music and sports.
“We want them to really enjoy this moment and in a way be the actors of the show,” said Estanguet, a four-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist in canoe slalom.
His understanding of demands made on Olympic athletes has helped shape what he hopes will be a better experience for most of about 10,000 athletes in Paris.
Gone should be the typical opening ceremony experience of standing around outside a stadium, marching into it, then more standing until about midnight. That has put off athletes who start competing the next day.
“It could be hours and hours when you stand,” said Estanguet, suggesting the new option from Paris “will also convince athletes that they can participate without any stress.”
They should be able to board a boat, relax and float downstream to the Trocadero gardens where seats await them in grandstands. They can choose to return to their Olympic village apartments or stay for the artistic show that has traditionally begun the ceremony.
After Monday’s launch, Estanguet said, “We will start to work on the artistic direction.”